Getting Hooked on Birds

Some time towards the end of 2013, events conspired to get me addicted to the hobby of birdwatching.  Perhaps as a premonition of what was to come, my daughter Victoria had at Christmas 2012, bought me a picture guide to the Birds of Kenya.  For years, a good friend and fellow golfer, Mike Davidson had been telling me tales of spotting a 'yellow-bellied sand-tit' or a 'wingless white-eyed mangrove wallower' in the most unlikely places.  As you can tell this meant absolutely nothing to me but I humoured him by feigning interest in his adventures. To be fair I have always been a fan of the outdoors and love the wild places that still abound in Kenya.

As was our wont, the family always looked forward to our week-long vacation during the break at the end of each hard year and 2013/2014 the destination was the Masai Mara Game Reserve in South Western Kenya.  Never having been there I decided to purchase a good camera hoping to capture good memories of the big five.  After much research (google-ing) and apprehension I settled for the massive zoom lens Canon Powershot SX 50 HS and WOW!  It really is a great small big camera that enables even the worst amateur like me to pretend to take professional photographs. 

Armed with my birdbook, a pair of binoculars and my new camera I had my first taste of what Mike had been talking about all those years.  Big five were elusive but birds were in abundance so I took pleasure in annoying my family by stopping at every turn and trying to capture as many as possible.  Of course not knowing the names of the individual species or the secrets of good bird photography this beginning was very messy.  I persevered and when I got back to Nairobi I made a resolution to get a good picture of each species of Bird in Kenya before I die.  

That was the start of a great hobby.  As I have become better at recognising individual birds I need a place to display my 'trophies'. I use the excuse that my Mother needs to see them which is true but I also want to show off to other birding enthusiasts. (I got a better shot than you did - Na Na Na).  Quite Childish I know - but it is an ego thing.  As you get older and you can't play tennis or golf as well as you once could, it is nice to have validation that you still have a skill.  Great Picture of a Yellow Bishop James. 

June 1st 2016 - Mwea National Reserve

This day is the national holiday called Madaraka (Freedom) in Kenya and another great opportunity to get away and do some real quality birding.  The main problem on such days is that the major roads out of the capital are clogged with like minded escapees trying to get as far away from the concrete jungle. To get anywhere meaningful in time to capture the 'early birds' it is wise to leave way before sun-up.  Along with getting a great photograph of every species of bird in Kenya, I also want to visit and become familiar with as many of the identified important bird areas in  the country.  So this morning I decided to go back to the Mwea National Reserve, which is a small (42 square Km) Kenya Wildlife Service protected area 140 kilometres North East of Nairobi.   

Left Nairobi at 5.30am and after a brief stop in the town of Thika, was at the reserve gate at 8.30.  Very few visitors come here which is a shame but the flip side is that it is unspoilt wilderness and a bird watchers paradise.  It has one gate, is completely surrounded by a fence on three sides and the Kamburu Dam to the east.  The road network inside the park is generally good but care needs to be exercised as in many places they disappear into the undergrowth and a few river crossings are impassable due to washed away bridges.  

An enjoyable way to birdwatch and hone the skills of identification is to log sightings for the Kenya Bird Map Project as they happen.  This trip I logged 27 species including 3 new ones and 2 for which I still don't have a good enough picture to post on the Internet Bird Collection. A Broad-billed Roller,  Black-necked Weaver and  a Violet-backed Starling (Amethyst Starling) were the new ones. A Golden-breasted Starling and the Black-headed Oriole were the aggravatingly photo-shy.  The only addition to my species count (now 304) on this day was the spectacular Amethyst Starling locally known as the Violet-backed Starling.  I did manage to capture a great picture of a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl (I already have this one) in a tree by the Tana River.  

No luck with sighting the Elephants and Buffalo who's droppings were everywhere and in places the smell of the herds made it evident they were close by.  I guess the heat during the day of 36C was enough to keep them in the bushes away from prying eyes.  Left  the vicinity as evening was approaching and reached the safety of home at around 8pm quite content.  I will go back probably after the winter migrants return in September. 

  • Mary Byera

    on June 20, 2016

    Very interesting read. Fantastic work!

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